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Zach Helfand: Dear Denard

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 1, 2013

But we didn’t get the goodbye right, did we? After four years, 10,776 yards and a lot of magic, your end came on a sideline in Florida with your helmet in your hand — watching an offense that used to be yours — and a photo with three strangers. A frown instead of a smile.

In your first game, you did no wrong. You had the fumble touchdown on your first carry. Your last rush, after you set the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback, was a three-yard loss. Your last pass was a duck.

Your team didn’t need you anymore.

The big plays happened elsewhere, and often you just watched, like everyone else: a Gardner sneak or scramble; a Jeremy Gallon catch; a Drew Dileo fake punt.

After the photo, you jogged toward the tunnel, stopping to walk off the field with your fellow captain and friend, Jordan Kovacs. You rubbed your hand over your face, adjusting your skull cap, and the Michigan fans, though still dejected, stood up and applauded. And then you ran by that concrete slab of an alcove toward the locker room.

Forty-four minutes later, at 5:28, you got up from your plastic chair after your press conference and walked up to another camera. For two minutes, you answered more questions, and then you were done.

You walked down the tunnel back to the locker room. As you did, a man holding a towel climbed the plastic chair and wiped off “16 Robinson,” until all that was left of you was a faded blur.

Soon, the darkness of the tunnel swallowed you. One day, maybe, you’ll come out clean on the other side, to the NFL and beyond.

Until then, we’ll wait, watch, hope. And, always, Denard, we’ll remember and together we’ll smile.

— Helfand can be reached at zhelfand@umich.edu and on Twitter: @zhelfand.